The world split into two, a before, and an after; we ended up in limbo, stuck in the buffer zone that squeezes joy out of us and squishes us into strange shapes. Humanness distorted by a common enemy no one can see and that we fight by sheltering in place, doing battle with the urge to flee. How do you escape the inevitable consequences of so much loss, so much death, so much destruction you cannot protect yourself from?
You stay home.
The familiar is aberrant then absurd before it becomes alienating. Home doesn’t always make sense, especially if you come from elsewhere and we all do. There was a world before the pandemic and we’re never going back, much like we couldn’t time-travel back to the carefree, innocent times of pre 9/11. We believed then our actions had no consequences if they didn’t happen at home; we woke up to the connectedness of everything.
The great human chain has as many links as it has people, there are 8 billion of us, and only the most privileged get to pause and catch their breath. As we watch our livelihoods sputter to a halt then disappear with nary a whimper, individualism attempts to understand itself. And so we’re finding out that youth, religion, and money aren’t the impenetrable force fields we thought they were. None of them can shield us from harm, only perhaps help us weather this bizarre moment in human evolution with some ease.
All the ugliness we swept under the rug comes back to haunt us, the personal, the political, the professional. We’re reckoning with our deepest fears, staring squalor in the face while hunger pangs set in as we learn to rein in our appetites. We’re hungry, hungrier than we’ve ever been for human warmth, hope, grace, a sense of forward momentum many of us cannot muster just yet.
Grounded. Stuck in place. Shell-shocked. And so angry now that a global crisis has put all our lifestyles under the microscope, quashed our illusions, and exposed our lies. There are so many, where do we start the inventory? For now, it’s easier to avert our eyes from the callous recklessness of capitalism that has homeless people sleeping in a Las Vegas parking lot. Safety could have been an empty hotel room but we denied the most vulnerable basic human decency and gave them painted lines on the ground instead.
Self-disempowerment has been America’s leitmotiv for a long time and we are all complicit in our downfall. We believed ourselves to be exceptional; a virus reminded us we’re not.
We could let greed and despondency win as they always have. Politicking and profiteering are having a moment, this is how we roll, rushing to capture the desperation dollar. Grifters clinging to their growth mindset are sparing no effort, coming up with innumerable listicles, products, and services to help us. So long as we can afford them: Those offerings are never free, only designed to tap into the booming global disquiet market. Produce, perform, and consume; a pandemic is not a valid excuse, economy trumps public health.
Aren’t you tired of this? How much longer can you listen to healthy people whine about how they wish they were in hospital so they could take a break from adulthood? How much longer can you entertain the self-serving FOMO diatribes of those who are doing well but still want in on the struggle? Why do we even enable them when they undermine our collective mental health before slapping us with a bill?
Is reverse engineering schadenfreude a thing now? I hate manure.
Greed is one hell of a drug and the internet provides fertile soil, breeding new digital frankensteins every day. Platforms have been making money hand over fist with our emotions for a while as users became personal brands and products with tag lines. We turned our shared humanness and our lives into a global online auction; democracy, privacy, and dignity are all up for grabs.
The futility of going to war with words isn’t lost on me but how else can we afford the hubris of thinking we’re going to be OK if we don’t make our own hope when all signs point to planetary shit show and personal collapse?
How can a better future be possible if we do not hold ourselves accountable for the practices we condoned? How can we build a fairer and more equitable society when we continue to glorify gullibility, greed, and the grotesque?
We lie to save ourselves from uncertainty, we lie to give ourselves the illusion of control, we lie to exert power over others. As a result, the new ambassadors of honesty are neither experts nor thought leaders but marketers worshipping at the altar of the self. They are here to tell us what we don’t know, they are here to unveil all the secret to success, they are here to redefine honesty as a unique selling point.
When all emotions have been claimed and repackaged into products and sold off to the highest bidder, who will we be? How will we express ourselves when words have lost their meaning, their power, their impact? Trapped into a web of lies of our own making, we still ponder what to pawn next, keeping our grabby fingers crossed that’ll be enough to tide us over until we can reclaim a false sense of security into an unpredictable and ever-changing world.
There has to be another way to be a human online and IRL that doesn’t involve sacrificing our hearts, our minds, and our souls. There has to be another way to be a human online and IRL that doesn’t involve baiting the unsuspecting with recycled clichés and assorted truisms. There has to be another way to be a human online and IRL that doesn’t involve stretching self-disempowerment until it becomes a habit.
I’m curious. Are you?
The bromides of self-pity provide scant comfort when the world is hurting and yearning for relief, respite, a little rest. COVID-19 will humble us all, one way or another, and now isn’t a bad time to take stock of how we want to live, what our values are, and align the former with the latter.
Enthusiasm takes vision and self-awareness, and self-awareness involves a lot of emotions we would prefer not to feel right now. But emotions are clues, revealing what we may have overlooked, denied, or silenced. And they tend to catch up with you when something changes, sometimes overpowering you so much you detach. Suddenly, your mind is floating away, subject to the whims of atmospheric pressure, and you can’t quite catch it.
As time passes, the pressure gets heavier and heavier until everything unravels and you have no choice but to sift through the rubble of before. It may look like there isn’t much you can salvage but if you’re alive, you’re doing great despite teetering on the brink of the abyss.
You clean; you bake; you post. You’re a limpet, you cling on, even when the shell it took so long to regrow is being wrenched away from you, exposing your modesty. And now the world knows you favor going commando. It’s awkward but it’s not terminal, we’re all stripped bare, billions of hearts and minds in the throes of unruly emotions that make little to no sense whatsoever.
We tell ourselves the stories we need to survive: Our brains are good at parsing information and getting creative but only if we let them. But many of us do not know ourselves well enough to follow our instincts; we defer to groupthink instead of taking a counterintuitive approach. Nobody likes failure but how can you ever learn anything if you never try anything new, if you don’t take risks, calculated or otherwise? Responsive, pro-active, or both?
If not now then when?
What if sheltering in place became a global testing phase during which we create proofs of concept and beta test a better internet that serves everyone without weaponizing emotions? We can push back against profiteering and the plundering of the human heart; greed can block out the light but it can never usher in the reign of darkness.
The light is within.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.